Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Steve Spence on Andrew Duncan on Twentieth Century Blues

In his ‘Finding Your Own Way’, in part a review of A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 by Andrew Duncan (Shearsman, new), Steve Spence comments:
Someone he isn't so good on and who I think he massively underestimates is Robert Sheppard. He describes Sheppard's huge project, Twentieth Century Blues (a project similar in some ways to both the work of Lopez and Goodland) as being 'thoroughly unsuccessful, overheated, loud and repetitive'. He's not too keen on Sheppard's critical work either so I'm wondering if there isn't some sort of 'personality clash' going on here. Sheppard's wonderful collection Warrant Error is for me proof that it's still possible to write political poetry at all and political poetry at that which combines both an emotional response with a tight formalist quality which contains and 'skews' the anger. Reason and emotion in perfect balance I'd say, in a book which really makes the grade. I haven't read all of Twentieth Century Blues (a vast project) but I've been impressed with what I have read and also find Sheppard to be a useful and perceptive critic.

I find the terms of the attack and defence both interesting. (And wonder about 'unsuccess' and the criteria for its assessment.) It’s also interesting to reflect on Steve Spence’s ‘wondering’ about a ‘personality clash’ between Andrew and myself. I like Andrew though I don’t see him that often (but used to every week in London). He’s the least egoistical person I've met in the poetry world (which is saying something!). It would be easier if I could attribute his views to a 'personality clash', but I can’t, and won't. 

However, there is a larger point about writing criticism of contemporary poetry when one is an agent in the scene (and particularly when one is a poet as well as a critic). Michael Hamburger took the route of never writing on his contemporaries. That’s one way, but it leaves the contemporary off limits forever. So some of us plunge in (Andrew and me both, and Steve Spence) and attempt to write criticism. But what about when we attempt to write about each other? If I were now to write an even-mildly negative critique of Andrew’s poetry or disagree with some element of his criticism, (to suggest that his micro-scale assessments of individual poets are more cogent that his macro-judgements about scenes and decades, etc) would that not simply be read as some sort of revenge? Poetry. BOOM!

1990-2010: Literary histories often omit to mention my work (and that of the others Duncan and I write about). The period chosen is, of course, partly the period of Twentieth Century Blues. But it’s also the period in which I published (a quick check of publication dates) Hymns to the God in which my Typewriter Believes and Warrant Error, to limit myself to poetry, and to pinpoint the example Spence proffers. I wonder if that is mentioned.

Here is Steve Spence's piece. And his earlier review of Warrant Error here.

Twentieth Century Blues may be bought here, Warrant Error here. All my projects may be sampled in my selected poems, History or Sleep, here.

Todd Thorpe’s review of  Twentieth Century Blues my be read here.

The POETICS of Twentieth Century Blues may be read here. (NB POETICS is going to be the subject of the next 7 posts on Pages, beginning 1st April.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

EUOIA, Easter Bunnies and Philip Larkin: a warning from history

Larkin and Soft Friend
I put it like this:

I might have to leave my European Union
The PM’s negotiating hard with the Poles
Goodbye Roubaud goodbye Kouwenaar back
To a thin slice of parkin and a slim vol by Larkin

I fear for us all as, in this recent poem, I contemplate having to leave the EU(OIA) as a result of a possible foolish withdrawal into Little Englandism with its traditional hangings and workers' rights (as well as its dishes and poets). More on the unreformed European Union Of Imaginary Authors here: Foreign poetry? Yes!

But no Brexit! Bremain! Bremain! As another of my recent poems has it:

They didn't let me swear my oath on the dictionary
not even the one containing the word 'Brexit'.

Brussels in normal times

For more on the EUOIA click on the keyword below and read the previous posts. The project continues. I have just finished working with Phillip Terry on the works of Paul Coppens (Jnr), another Belgian. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Robert Sheppard: The Meaning of Form its various blurbs

I have not mentioned this critical book for a while on this blog, partly because I have been busy with the admin behind it, gathering permissions from authors and publishers, which has not been easy. But I have just delivered the final text (to Palgrave, US) and it seems appropriate to record that fact and to offer a reminder of its forthcomingness. (This also reminds me of the paratexts I will need to do, the index, for example. Those who have never written an academic book would be quite surprised how much work the author has to do, permissions to pay, etc. This is one reason why I hope this will be my last purely academic book on poetry.) 

I have just tried to describe the project in 50 words and then in 150 and then in keywords, and then myself in 50. Here they are:

This study treats the life of form in contemporary innovative poetries through both a summary introduction to contemporary theories of form, and through detailed readings of leading North American and British innovative poets, which show their forms to be a matter of both authorial design and readerly engagement.  

This study engages questions relating to the life of form in contemporary innovative poetries through both an introduction to the latest theories of form that will be of interest to anyone concerned with reading for form, and which focusses upon form as an engaged action rather than metrical frame or pattern, and with reference to the work of Susan Wolfson and Derek Attridge. Close readings of leading North American and British innovative poets, from Rosmarie Waldrop to Caroline Bergvall, Sean Bonney to Barry MacSweeney, Veronica Forrest-Thomson to Kenneth Goldsmith, Allen Fisher to Geraldine Monk, emphasise their forms to be a matter of authorial design and readerly engagement. They cover form on the page, form in performance, and form in physical book-making. The book ends with a consideration of what has been implicit throughout: the politically critical function of formal innovation, mediated through the theories of Adorno, Rancière and others.

keywords: form; innovation; formal innovation; linguistically innovative poetry; political form.

Robert Sheppard is a poet-critic and Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University, UK. His The Poetry of Saying (LUP) was published in 2005, and he has written a monograph on Iain Sinclair and edited an essay collection on Lee Harwood. His Selected Poems is published by Shearsman.

A guide or hub-post, to the project, with links to some of its working notes and digressions and outtakes, may be accessed here.

For those who can buy the book, or order it for libraries, here are the places

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Robert Sheppard: article in CLASP: late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s (my part in its downfall)

Last Saturday, in Leicester (see here), I picked up my contributor’s copy of Clasp: late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s, edited by Robert Hampson and Ken Edwards. (Details here.) It’s the sort of book I would review – if I weren’t in it, in two senses: things I did and said pop up here and there, and I have my say in the short piece, ‘Took Chances in London Traffic’. It is itself supplementary to other works of mine, as I explain:

My critical book When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry [Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011; see here] is really a hymn of praise to the poetry scene in London from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, just before I came to Liverpool. [Another] chapter ‘Informing the Nation: The Manifesto of the Poetry Society (1976)’ deals with the well-documented events at the Poetry Society (and with the poetics document mentioned in the title)…. My chapter ‘The Colony at the Heart of the Empire: Bob Cobbing and the Mid-1980s London Creative Environmenteart ’ outlines the readings and performances I witnessed or of which I kept evidence. It’s a fulsome but not comprehensive account,

I state carefully, emphasing that I didn’t attend every event, although I do have the benefit of the diaries I kept, the same used to write my autrebiographical Words Out of Time, (e.g., see here for my diary account of meeting Bob Cobbing for the first time, an event that is glossed in the book in general terms).

This is a fascinating book of reminiscences of the 1970s, although it understandably strays into the 1960s (‘The British Poetry Revival’, see here). John Lennon's white suit is glimpsed several times, but only one contributor spilt tea over it! It also strays into the 1980s. (I was told to narrate until 1985 and I did this scrupulously; I had to: I only arrived in London in late 1983!) But it also wanders into the 1990s: there’s anachronistic mention of the deliberately unnamed workshop/discussion group Patricia and I organised in Tooting (and our big parties are mentioned as well). In Valerie Soar’s wonderful piece, she remembers an epiphanic moment of watching Bob Cobbing performing at the Smallest Poetry Festival in the World, which was held in our very small Tooting council house (though in December 1994). This slippage is inevitable (as is the way contributors step outside the ring of the M25 to tell us of other matters in other places) but it might make it harder to write of the 1980s and 1990s as distinct eras (as they were).    

Of course, events around the Poetry Society are still up for debate, with Lawrence Upton (who wants to poke me in the eye for writing stuff like this, judging from his Basil Fawlty analogy!) on one side, Elaine Randell on the other, and Robert Vas Dias as the Piggy-in-the Middle. But the acrimony has abated, and I think we need to concentrate upon the creative work of that period and place.

John Muckle and I are the only two writers here who register a sense of not belonging to the ‘London scene’: both of us had wandered in from outside and both of us are at the end of the book, as the youngest contributors, and we recall the exclusivity of the scene that others don’t notice. They do register the gender bias, if that’s not a weak term for an almost complete absence of women, although Valerie, Paula Claire and Frances Presley offer strong accounts. It’s good to see Patricia Farrell’s role in SubVoicive acknowledged.   

So: it’s not a book I can review at all. (Also see this interview between Rupert Loydell and me which pitches two versions of London in the early 80s against one another.)

One last thing: it almost seems as though in our search for accuracy, some of us have dodged trying to reflect the necessary excitement that derived from being in the compression of 'London traffic'. It takes another outsider, Jeremy Reed in his Shearsman book I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Asa Benveniste and Trigram Press, to get it right: ‘There’s something about the stupendous momentum of London’s energies that locks you into capital affairs.’ That’s what Clasp is about!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Robert Sheppard and Nancy Gaffield Oystercatcher Launch at States of Independence (Leicester) set list and account

I was up and out, with Patricia, after she’d got Stephen ready for a day of work at the Museum, to Leicester, a journey I thought unnecessarily long, on the otherwise comfortable trains. Reading Groove by Tiger Roholt (2014). (What are the implications for poetic performance of his theses about direct and indirect description of nuance and affect?) Late, straight into Simon Perrril’s Shearsman launch reading. We crashed in, like Archilochus dropping his shield, while Simon did the business of ventriloquising the dead Neobul√©. (The book Beneath is the brilliant sequel to the equally brilliant Archilocus on the Moon, which I write about at length here.)

All the wonderful people: Tony Frazer, Peter and Lynn Hughes, Andy Taylor and Rory Waterman (met for the first time), Gregory Woods (met for the first time sine the 1980s, but an old friend from UEA days; I published his first poem on 1983 in 1975ish, and we've both served the old place well), Shiela (Patricia’s sister, a real pleasant surprise, to whom Patricia told the rude penguin joke), Alan Baker (a particular interest of mine at the moment, see here), Sam, who published Alan’s big book, as modest as Alan, and, of course, my co-reader Nancy Gaffield, who was new to me.
Me reading. Photo: courtesy Andrew Taylor
Our Oystercatcher reading was introduced generously by Peter Hughes, and Nancy began with her Meridian, see here. The poem began, disarmingly, for a Sussex boy listening, with the word ‘Peacehaven’, the strangest one horse town in the country, but it’s on the line that Nancy is walking and recording in this poem. We got as far as Epping Forest: the ghost of Clare. Sinclair country. Which she is planning to walk with him. (I wonder if Iain’s seen Peacehaven?)

I was clear I couldn’t go straight in with The Drop, so my set list was:

 ‘Rainshine shivers on dull platforms’, a poem about the English Midlands, from ‘The English Poems’ in Warrant Error (and in Historyor Sleep). There was a Shearsman stall as well as an Oystercatcher one downstairs.

The Drop, both the short lyric ‘Standing By’ (see here) and ‘Of Crystal'. (See here for the book and here for its elegiac contexts, and a review by Alan Baker, here.)

I then turned the tables on the poem and read an excerpt from ‘The Given’, to be found in both Words Out of Time and History or Sleep. It seemed sensible to read from one sentence referring to my father to another, a 5 minute stretch, but I emphasised the comedy (and at least one person, Greg Woods, remembered the Occupied Hamburger Bar at UEA!).

Over, I bought a number of books: Nancy’s book, plus Sophie Mayer’s and Ralph Hawkins’ Oystercatchers, Jeremy Reed’s Asa Benveniste book, a Sandeep Parmar, a Simon Smith I seemed to have missed, and Alan Baker’s Bonnefoy translations.

And I picked up my contributor’s copy of Clasp: Late Modernist Poetry in London in the 1970s. We found a pub, the Swan and Rushes, and drank JHB (a beer eulogised in my poem ‘Sonnet (Fourteen Bars)’), and read little snatches, representations of our lives in London, including our (unnamed) Tooting Thursday evenings, our parties, and (of course) the Smallest Poetry Festival in the World in 1994. Patricia’s part in running the earliest Sub-Voicive readings is also recognized. But that’s another … post. Here.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Poem in International Times: 'Avenge'

 A poem of mine, ‘Avenge’ has just been published in International Times (March 2016) illustrated by Nick Victor.
Read it here. (My previous contribution, 'Workless Washday: Burnt Journal 1952' for Frances Presley, was also illustrated by him. See here.)

Both poems are from my ongoing sonnets project, 'Avenge' from a sequence of 14 sonnets, which are what some musicians would call a 'contrafact' upon sonnets by Milton (guess which one from the title); the other is from a sequence of 'Twelves', mainly birthday poems and 'excitations' for friends.   

All my 'Overdubs' (as I eventually called them) from Milton are online and may be accessed here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Trev Eales - photography and friendship

Saturday, I went to Lancaster to meet up with my friend Trev Eales, whom I’ve known for 42 years. (He has a couple of walk-on parts in my autrebiography, Words Out of Time.) We walked (and saw the snow-peaked caps of the Lake District from the Castle Mound), talked, ate and drank. Amid the vital and essential catching up, we returned to a casual remark I made on our last meeting in Lancaster – no time at my birthday party in November to pursue this – the idea of combining my words and his photographic images in some form. Trev’s work has two main strands, the landscape photography taken on those very hills we’d seen (‘Today would have been perfect up there,’ he sighed in the sunshine), and his paid work as a music festival photographer.

Trev also reviews festivals, including one here, where he takes in a show by the poet Luke Wright, a curious meeting of our worlds. (He was still raving about it over coffee on Saturday.)

On the festival side, the side I’m interested in most, are images of artists ranging from Ella Eyre (a particular favourite of Trev), Booker T, Baba Maal, Robert Plant, The Prodigy, Marina and the Diamonds, St Vincent, Arctic Monkeys to The Stones (in all their wrinkled glory). I hope you’ll think his eye quite exceptional. I do. There is an interview with him here, which shows how the photography grew of out his interest in music. (Indeed, we first met at a Thin Lizzy concert in October 1974 at UEA.) 

We don’t have very detailed plans of how we would work, but the intention is activated. And emails shall follow!

 Images are displayed on his website here, and on his supplementary flickr site here. Dwell on them!

Here is an account of some of our later plans. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Robert Sheppard new book UNFINISH (a de-selected poetics piece)

Eight Notes

‘How everything one is thinking (at a specific moment in time) must (at all costs) be incorporated into the project,’ noted Benjamin. Everything? At all costs?

I’d expected something more knowing, something like Art and Language: a room of ‘abstract expressionist’ canvasses, a room of ‘Mondrian’, a room of ‘Richter’… but it wasn’t like that. It was unironically multiform. The canvas is a blank for Von Heyl. Or conversely it is full, and she empties it.

Novelisations of films that have never been made. Guide texts and unthreadings. Unreadings and unwritings.

Reconfiguration was part of the project (but). One text might be linked and combined with, absorbed into, another in subsequent ‘drawings in’ of the scheme. Overlaps, tangentials and autonomies. Abandoned. We intervene all the time

‘While the conceptualists plagiarise other people’s content, I plagiarise their forms,’ he said again, quoting his allegedly fictional poet. The interruption of abstractions and their real violence. ‘Something has to be formed and transformed or a concept stays the same,’ he said, for himself.

To set up an archive or ark that will collect all writings (and assimilations) and be adapted at various points for various purposes. Discontinued.

Could ‘Unfinish’ have been a possible title for the ‘project’, concentric open circles, drifting constellations of titles, endlessly reconfiguring? How are the conceptual and formal related? The procedural, the structural?

Every writing creates its own precursors. No end to tradition. No end to innovation. There is only an archive of attention out of which works are made, systematic or. Elsewise.

6 January 2014

Originally meant to mirror the 'Eight Theses' with which Unfinish opens, I cut these because of the implication that Unfinish might be the beginning of a 'project', as hinted at above, another 'Twentieth Century Blues' if I hadn't have drawn back from the abyss, or rather: from the concentric and overlapping diagrams I still have in my poetics journal. Instead, it is a record of a particular moment's gathering from that journal of ideas that seemed pertinent. Certainly I have set up a system of daily writing I call 'Ark and Archive', although that phrase also sank into The Drop to suggest something rather different and elegaic. I like these notes but don't regret dropping them from the book, which they might have confused rather than focussed. But, of course, they also recoil from the notion of a project, particularly in the mild revulsion about Benjamin. The reflection on Van Heyl is interesting, another suggestion that the paradigms of card-carrying postmodernism have (long?) shifted. The phrase 'archive of attention' is suggestive and useful for describing the writerly equipment suitable for the (on-going) job. This is poetics as I conceive it (and as I describe it elsewhere, here, for example.)

Unfinish is published by Veer: only £5. Buy it here and see more of the text. Read about it here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Robert Sheppard New Book Out: Unfinish - prose from Veer Books

Yet Another New Book: Unfinish published by Veer: only £5.

Buy it here and see more of the text.
It contains 8 prose pieces:

‘Theses’, eight quotations to orient the book and introduce the theme of ‘human unfinish’ which appers also in Warrant Error and Berlin Bursts.

‘Bad Poems for Bad People!’, is a response to parts of Sean Bonney’s keynote at the Conversify Conference, Edinburgh, 9-11th September 2011 (though not to the exemplary readings of Rimbaud therein, but in anticipation of the publication of Happiness, and certainly before the completion of his PhD on Amiri Baraka, which I had the pleasure to read in 2012). It was first performed as the finale to my Berlin Bursts reading at the Bluecoat’s Chapter & Verse literature festival, Liverpool, on 16th October 2011. It was first published in Intercapillary Space at intercapillaryspace. in 2012. It’s also twinned with the paper I wrote and delivered at the conference, ‘Notes on Form, Forms and Forming and the Antagonisms of Reality in Criticism, Poetics and Poetry’, which may be read on Pages blogzine, at /2014/04/robert-sheppard-form-forms-and-forming.html.

‘Venus and Adonis’ is a compressed prose piece.

‘In Unadopted Space’ is a poem-essay on the nature of space (a theme I need to return to at some time).

‘Comrade Ivan Ivanovich’s Book of Solid Kremlins and Melting Cromlechs’ is a history of Russia since the Revolution, somewhat compressed.

‘Interlude’ is an interlude.

‘Portrait and Portals’ was published, with images by Patricia Farrell, on the online part of the anthology The Dark Would, edited by Phil Davenport, Manchester: Apple Pie Editions, 2013. Part of this has been adopted as the cover image, see above. For The Dark Would see here.

‘Excitation for Jo Blowers’ was first performed, in a performance text version, as a work-in-progress, at the Friends of cris cheek evening at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, 25th June 2013, by Jo Blowers and Mary Prestidge (dance), and Robert Sheppard and Patricia Farrell (voice). More on work with Jo here and here.

Jo Blowers performing 'Excitation' at the Bluecoat in 2013

More books by me here